PAKISTAN - VIOLENCE: Pakistan's military has resumed its offensive against Taliban militants
in the northwest amid rising concerns about civilians who have been
unable to escape during days of intensifying fighting.
Ground troops, helicopters and warplanes pounded suspected militant
targets in the Swat Valley on Saturday. Fighting raged in the Swat,
Kabal and Dir districts.
People fleeing the area have reported scores of civilian casualties.
The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people are having to
leave their homes amid the violence, but some residents say they have
not been able to escape and are trapped amid the ongoing fighting.
SOUTH AFRICAN POL: Jacob Zuma was sworn in as South Africa's fourth president since the end of apartheid on Saturday, overcoming corruption scandals and criminal charges. In his speech, the new president promised not to deviate from venerable former President Nelson Mandela's legacy of rebuilding the nation post-apartheid in a spirit of unity and reconciliation. He said, "this is a moment of renewal." But he also acknowledged the difficult economic times in which he takes office. Thousands of South Africans watched the inauguration from the lawns of the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Nearly 30 heads of state attended the ceremony.
OBAMA - MUSLIMS: U.S. President Barack Obama will deliver a long-awaited speech to the Muslim world next month in Egypt. Making the announcement Friday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs downplayed questions about whether the location of the speech will overshadow its message, given concerns about Egypt's poor human rights record. He said Egypt "in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world." He also said the speech will be directed at the global Muslim community, and its scope will be wider than the leadership of the country where it is given.
HMONG RALLY IN SUPPORT OF VANG PAO: Hundreds of Hmong-Americans from Minnesota's twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul and neighboring states plan to march and hold a peaceful rally in front of the Minnesotan State Capitol today (Saturday), calling for the dismissal of the case against former General Vang Pao. Xiong Pao Moua, one of the event organizers, told VOA that the 45-minute long march will begin in St. Paul at 9 o'clock, local time, and will proceed from Western St. to University Ave. onto the State Capitol, and is expected to attract 5,000 participants. The aim of the peaceful rally is to demonstrate support and demand justice for the former Lao general, calling for the dismissal of all charges against him and other defendants, who have been allegedly erroneously charged by the U.S. government even though there are not enough evidences to justify the charges. The protesters also want to show support for the appeal by the defendants' lawyers.
A California court is scheduled to hold a hearing on the appeal on May 11. On that day, Hmong-Americans in California say they will hold a large-scale rally in front of the State Capitol in Sacramento, and march to the court to submit their petition for the dismissal of the cases. Vang Pao and 9 other defendents were arrested in California in June 2007, on charges of conspiring to illegally obtain weapons for use in activities hostile to the government of Laos.
AFGHANISTAN: The U.S. military and the Afghan government have confirmed that "a number of civilians" were killed in U.S. air strikes and related fighting on Monday and Tuesday. In a joint statement, the U.S. and Afghan investigation team did not say how many civilians died in the violence in the western province of Farah, which sparked outraged protests among local residents. The team said they were "unable to determine with certainty which of those casualties were Taliban fighters and which were non-combatants because those killed were all buried" before investigators arrived at the scene.
IRAN - JOURNALIST: The lawyer for jailed Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi says an Iranian court will hear the appeal against her jail sentence on Sunday. Lawyer Abdolsamad Khorramshahi made the announcement Saturday. It is not clear how long it will take the court to render a verdict in the case of Saberi, who was sentenced to eight years in prison last month on espionage charges. Her family and the U.S. government say the charges against her are baseless. Saberi's father (Reza Saberi) says the 32-year-old freelance journalist ended a hunger strike Monday after refusing to eat for nearly two weeks.
SWINE FLU: Japan and Australia have confirmed their first cases of the H1N1 swine
The Japanese Health Ministry said Saturday that a teacher and two high
school students tested positive for the virus. News reports say all
three were hospitalized with the flu after arriving in Tokyo from
Detroit, Michigan, on a trip that included a visit to Canada.
In Australia, tests results show a woman from New South Wales had
contracted the disease. The country's health minister
said the woman was infected with the virus while in the United States
in late April, but has now recovered.
POPE MIDEAST: On the second day of his week-long trip to the Middle East, Pope
Benedict has condemned "the ideological manipulation of religion" and
called for inter-faith dialogue.
Speaking to Muslim leaders and other dignitaries Saturday at the
Hussein bin Talal mosque in Amman, Jordan, the pontiff said religion
should be a force for good, not for division.
Pope Benedict is using his Middle Eastern tour to reach out to Muslims
and Jews, both of whom have at times had strained relations with him
since he became pontiff in 2005. (News Updates)
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